When forgiveness becomes a discipline

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Peter was looking for an “attaboy.”

Jesus had just finished giving His teaching on the process of confrontation when a brother sins against you. Peter, hearing Jesus’ emphasis on honest and direct communication with the aim of restoration, came back with a very generous offer, at least in his mind:

“Lord, how many times could my brother sin against me and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” (Matthew 18:21).

Nice, Peter. I see what you did there. You hid a statement in the form of a question. It’s especially nice since the rabbis of the day taught that 3 instances of forgiveness was plenty. But you? You are going above and beyond. But Jesus wiped the smugness off Peter’s face with His next statement:

“I tell you, not as many as seven, but 70 times seven.”

So that’s more then. A lot more. And Jesus’ point becomes clear – there isn’t a specific number of times you should forgive another, but instead you should forgive generously as God has forgiven you. That’s what the subsequent parable is all about.

We get that at some level I think. Because God doesn’t run out of forgiveness for us, we must do likewise to our brothers. Forgiven people, forgive people. Most of the time we think of this in a situation where we have a friend who can’t seem to get his or her act together. They’re always messing up; they can’t seem to get their social graces in order. And time after time, they have to come to us apologizing again and again for saying the wrong thing, not thinking through their actions, que cera cera.

But let’s consider Jesus’ statement from a different angle – one that takes forgiveness out of the realm of “she didn’t include me when she tagged everyone on Facebook” and moves it into something much more serious. Some instance, let’s say, of deep, deep betrayal. Let’s consider that instance when one person has been irreparably harmed by another. Their life has been altered. Nothing will ever be the same, and now comes the opportunity to forgive.

Anyone who has felt that kind of pain, I believe, will testify to the fact that forgiveness isn’t so cut and dry. Sure, you can say the words simple enough; but it’s another matter to truly feel it. To live it.

In such a case, the “70 x 7″ is less about the number of times you have been wronged, and more about the number of times you must silently pronounce that forgiveness to another. It’s in such a case that forgiveness becomes an act of discipline – one that must be exercised sometimes daily, if not hourly, as you remind yourself over and over again that you forgive another.

Mind you this statement of forgiveness might not ever be said beyond the initial verbalization; but though you might not ever say it out loud passed the initial time, you think it. You have to. You say it to your heart. You preach it to yourself. The pain is so deep; the bitterness is so threatening; the anger is so fresh; that time and time again you must preach to your soul that you have forgiven. And then when you feel the anger or bitterness or anxiety, you say it to yourself again.

70 x 7 times. Or as many times as it really takes to grab hold. Discipline yourself to forgive, Christian, because sometimes it’s not as easy as doing it seven times.


Michael Kelley (M.Div.) and his wife, Jana, have three children. He’s the Director of at LifeWay Christian Resources. His works include Boring and Wednesdays Were Pretty Normal. Keep up with Michael on his blog at michaelkelleyministries.com or on Twitter @_MichaelKelley.

Originally published at michaelkelleyministries.com. Photo credit: minnepixel via photopin cc

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Faux Self-Empowerment For The Self-Centered

Joseph Sunde:

This is not your Grandmother’s Alcoholics Anonymous, wherein human depravity is pressed to come clean, and in its frailty, humility, and desperation, submits itself to a higher power and reaches beyond its earthbound limits. This is not about “love” as selfless, unconditional devotion to the other, tied to transcendent commitments and cultivated through relationships not of its own design. This is not, as the One True Guru might say, the last shall be first.

Keep It To Yourself

Adam Ford unpacks what it really means when someone asks you to keep your faith to yourself.

The Great 1980s Dungeons & Dragons Panic

In an era of potent concern over internet pornography, cyber-bullying, and drugs, it is hard to imagine a game being controversial. But 30 years ago Dungeons & Dragons was the subject of a full-on moral panic, writes Peter Ray Allison.

At the beginning of 1982′s ET, a group of teenage boys are indulging in a roleplay game, featuring dice and spells, and sounding a lot like Dungeons & Dragons. They indulge in banter as they wait for a pizza delivery to arrive.

This innocuous depiction was a far cry from the less-neutral coverage that was to come.

Predestination: Don’t Say a Word About It Until…

Daniel Hyde:

…you need to know and be prepared to communicate several things before talking about predestination. Imagine that this doctrine is as a beautiful painting. But before you can even begin to apply the paint, you need to have a canvas. Predestination is the paint. We don’t begin with the paint. We begin with a canvas to which the paint is applied

Bread of Heaven

This is nicely done:

HT: Steven Kryger

Do You Have A Complaint Against Someone?

Mark Altrogge:

“If one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other…” Do you have a complaint against someone? Against your spouse or a friend? Against your pastor or ministry team leader? Could God have any complaints against you? If anyone has a right to complain about being sinned against, it is God. If he kept a record of our sins against him, he could produce an encyclopedia. Yet he was willing to forgive our mountain of sins against him. Jesus was willing to personally pay our debt so God could forgive us. Why? Because God is compassionate toward us even when we sin.

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How to deal with false teachers

Denny Burk offers three ways for pastors to address false teaching and teachers:

Not every purveyor of false teaching is a lackey of the Devil. We have examples in scripture where bona fide believers are the source of error in the church. Apollos was a man mighty in the scriptures who taught accurately about Jesus but who nevertheless was only familiar with John’s baptism. In Apollos’ case, his deficient teaching was an error of omission. He simply did not yet know the full apostolic message. Priscilla and Aquila came alongside Apollos and explained to him the way of God “more accurately” (Acts 18:26). Presumably, Apollos responded favorably to their correction such that Paul would later identify Apollos as a co-laborer in preaching the gospel (1 Cor. 3:5-9).

New Kindle deals

Zondervan has a big list of reference works and other resources on sale:

Finally, Zondervan’s 5 volume Encyclopedia of the Bible series is on for $6.99 each:

Let’s Stop Forgiving Those Who Don’t Want Forgiveness

David Murray:

I’ve lost count of the number of times some tragedy has occurred – a mass shooting, a terrorist attack, a drunk driving death – and the victims or their relatives, usually Christians, start “forgiving” the offenders within hours or days of the crime.

I understand the motive, and also the desire to present an attractive witness about Christian forgiveness to the world. But it’s not a faithful witness to God. It does not reflect how God forgives, which is to be our pattern and model. Here’s why.

Why You Ought to Be Violent

Mike Leake:

Taking the kingdom by force seems so opposite of the gospel of free grace. Why in the world would men and women need to forcefully grab at something that is free? Surely it is not because there is a limited supply of grace. And certainly not that one must bully his way into the kingdom—trampling over other beggars for a little slice of that bread. No, indeed there is enough of this Bread of Life to fill the world and all that is in it.

The New Birds and Bees

Tim Challies:

I sometimes read a magazine called The Walrus. It is a Canadian magazine that exists on the left—just about as far left as you can go, I think. Still, it features some skilled writers and presents a perspective that I wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to, so I rather enjoy reading it. In the current issue there is a column called “The Talk” that discusses teaching boys about sex. I realized as I read it that the way I have been teaching my children about sex and gender and sexuality is very, very different from the way society around us would teach them if given the opportunity. We use similar terms, but mean very different things by them. As a Christian, and as a Christian parent, I found it very helpful to have this alternative view so clearly laid out.

Three things we are learning about forgiveness

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One of the things we’re working with our children on is the concept of forgiveness—how to ask for it and how to offer it. My oldest typically does the begrudging, sullen, “Sorry…” thing and tries to leave things at that. My middle one is very honest and when you ask if she’ll forgive you says, “I’m not sure, I have to think about it.” And for the moment, Hudson remains a quasi-sociopath. Because, well, he’s two.

But talking with my kids about forgiveness is tricky, in part because it requires me to check my own heart on how I approach it—do I withhold forgiveness as long as possible? Do I do anything that cheapens it?

Here are three things I’m trying to remember and impart to the wee ones:

1. Assume the best—and be honest when you’re having a hard time doing so. Whenever someone asks forgiveness, I want to assume they’re genuinely asking. That there is true, heartfelt, Spirit-wrought  conviction. I’ve not been perfect with this; in fact, I’ve been down right terrible at it a lot of the time. But rather than putting on a nice face, sometimes it’s best to be honest about this struggle, rather than damage a relationship further by saying you forgive but are harboring bitterness.

2. Always pray and watch for the fruit of repentance. To be clear: our offer of forgiveness doesn’t mean we don’t care whether or not people change. It actually means we care very, very much. One of the kids really struggles with telling the truth right now, and we’ve told her that when she makes a habit of lying, it’s hard for us to trust what she says. We frequently pray with her that God will help her tell the truth, we coach her on honesty (and remind her that the consequences are always less severe when she’s upfront about something), and we watch. This requires a lot of patience because the fruit of repentance develops over a long period of time.

3. Protect the repentant from falling back into sin. Sometimes you can’t remove a person from a situation. For example, my daughters share a bedroom because we live in a three bedroom townhouse. This is going to be their reality for the foreseeable future. As a result, there are some things we’re not going to be able to protect our girls from, such as Hannah’s desire to irritate Abigail as much as possible.

But if a privilege or a responsibility offers too much temptation to sin, we remove it  for a season (or indefinitely) and explain why. We’ve done this with making choices at various ages (such as what they’d like for breakfast or choosing their own outfits), and we’ve also done it with an extended bedtime for our oldest (who, it turns out, is a much chipperer person when she’s gotten a little extra bit of rest).

None of these are things I’m perfect at, but they’re things I want to improve in and to train my kids to understand the importance of. Forgiveness is too important to cheapen with faux-repentance or withhold from the genuinely contrite. It is serious business. Lord willing our whole family will continue to see it that way.


photo credit: quantumlars via photopin cc

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Real forgiveness

Ray Ortlund:

“And if he repents, forgive him.” I wish we were all so tender before the Lord that obvious sin, lovingly rebuked, always evoked repentance. Sadly, that is not so. Hence, the word “if,” rather than “when,” in this verse. But if the relationship is to be restored, the offender must confess his sin as sin and repent of it. How can a sin be forgiven, if it’s never been confessed as sin? So hopefully the offending brother will say, after carefully considering your rebuke, “You’re right. I didn’t see it that way at the moment. I was too riled up. But now I see what I did, and I see what the Bible says about it, and I am making no excuses. I was wrong. I’m sorry. And, God helping me, it won’t happen again. Is there anything I can do that might make a positive difference?”

Why I Don’t Typically Pray For “A Hedge of Protection”

Mike Leake:

I’ve had something similar prayed over me before. And I really appreciate it. But I have a confession to make. The phrase “hedge of protection” makes me laugh. You see, I’m a child of the 80’s and 90’s. When I hear the word hedge I don’t think of a row of thorn bushes–I think of Sonic the Hedgehog. So what I hear when someone prays for a hedge of protection is a group of angry hedgehogs watching out for me like my own personal line of attack dogs.

That is one reason, to my knowledge, I’ve never once prayed a hedge of protection around someone. There is another reason.

Where does this hedge come from?

Kindle deals for Christian readers

A couple of new Kindle deals:

New deals from Westminster Books

Westminster Books are highlighting a number of books geared to women with some fantastic specials. Here are a few of the titles:

Being a Missions-Centered Local Church

Perhaps the most missions-centered local church I’ve ever visited is Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Georgia. Pastor Bryant Wright, the elders and staff at Johnson Ferry have by God’s grace led the church to an inspiring level of mission activity. They have adopted ten unreached and unengaged people groups. Last year nearly 50 percent of their active membership took part in short-term mission trips (just under 2,000 people). This year, Lord willing, they plan to take over 80 short-term trips and support over 90 full-time missionaries on the field.

I had the honor of joining Bryant and the saints at Johnson Ferry for their missions conference called Move (audio here). That’s just what they’re doing–moving! I learned a great deal during my time there and thought I would summarize five things in this short post.

Announcing Stephen Nichols as RBC President and Chief Academic Officer for Ligonier

This is great news for Ligonier Ministries and Reformation Bible College:

God has shown Himself gracious to Reformation Bible College in providing rapid growth to the young institution and in confirming ongoing plans to have the right people in place at every stage of the college’s expansion. As such, Dr. R.C. Sproul and the Board of Directors of Ligonier Academy of Biblical and Theological Studies are pleased to announce the appointment of Dr. Stephen J. Nichols as the second president of Reformation Bible College. This appointment is concurrent with Dr. Nichols accepting the position of chief academic officer for Ligonier Ministries.

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Why preach through books of the Bible?

Phil Newton:

I had a conversation with a minister friend who had been involved in discussing what pastors were preaching in their churches. While most seemed to agree that exposition of the biblical text must have priority in the church, few thought it wise to preach consecutively through books of the Bible—particularly with series that extended beyond twelve weeks. I understand the challenge of longer series but also see the value in the long run. The forty-four sermons that I preached through Ephesians in 1990–91, literally transformed my life, theology, and congregation. Eight or ten sermons would not have sufficed to uproot faulty theology and set us on a right course. The fifty-two sermons in Hebrews in 2000–01, sharpened our understanding of the gospel and its application to the whole of life.

What would you say had you been involved in the discussion? Here are a few thoughts that I’ve ruminated on since that conversation.

Pastor, Are You Speaking in Tongues During Your Sermon?

Trevin Wax:

Here’s a question we should ponder: Do we rely on biblical concepts or phrases in ways that fail to make sense to outsiders?

Let’s ask this another way. Would an unbeliever or a believer unfamiliar with the Bible be able to understand the basic message you are communicating in a sermon? If the answer is no, then we might as well be speaking in a foreign language.

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Crossway’s put a number of titles in the Preaching the Word commentary series on sale this week for $2.99:

Forgiveness

A great clip from a message by Matt Chandler:

Why I Quit My Sorority Over Racial Discrimination

Elizabeth Munn:

Along with many others I was hopeful that 2013 would bring change. We were especially excited because an outstanding African-American student, already known and loved by many girls in my sorority, was going through our recruitment process. Yet three days into rush I was informed that this woman had been abruptly removed from our list of potential new members during a private meeting between two alumnae advisers and four student leaders. This African-American student had been eliminated despite impassioned pleas from student sorority leaders in this meeting. I spoke personally with three of these four student leaders, and they each tearfully testified that her removal had been driven by racial prejudice.

Sunday Shorts (08/30)

Collision Available for Pre-order

From the website:

COLLISION carves a new path in documentary film-making as it pits leading atheist, political journalist and bestselling author Christopher Hitchens against fellow author, satirist and evangelical theologian Douglas Wilson, as they go on the road to exchange blows over the question: “Is Christianity Good for the World?”. The two contrarians laugh, confide and argue, in public and in private, as they journey through three cities. And the film captures it all. The result is a magnetic conflict, a character-driven narrative that sparkles cinematically with a perfect match of arresting personalities and intellectual rivalry. COLLISION is directed by prolific independent filmmaker Darren Doane (Van Morrison: To Be Born Again, The Battle For L.A., Godmoney).

COLLISIONwill be released on October 27, 2009.  It will be available on DVD and will premiere at theaters in New York and Los Angeles.  The DVD is available now for pre-order on Amazon.com.

Andy Naselli: Do We Have Free Will?

Over at Reformation 21, Andy Naselli addresses the question of free will:

Non-Christians and Christians alike often give the same answer to difficult questions like these: Why did God allow sin in the first place? Why does God save some people and not others? Why does God send people to hell? Why can living like a Christian be so frustrating? The immediate solution often suggested is simple: “free will.” To many people, it’s a satisfying answer: “Oh, that makes sense. Yeah, God does x because he has to preserve my free will. Yeah, OK. Next question.” I’d like to suggest that we re-think this important issue.

This is an article that requires a few minutes, so don’t skim when you read it.

HT: Challies

Unpacking Forgiveness

Also at Reformation 21, Chris Brauns unpacks forgiveness:

I’ve been thinking recently about something television star Kelsey Grammer said.  It’s not because I saw a rerun of Cheers. Unfortunately, the context is tragic. Grammer has me thinking about well intentioned people who end up “packing unforgiveness.”  Where deep wounds are concerned, there are those who try and do what they believe faith requires.  Yet, they end up hurting all the more.

Read the full article.

In cased you missed it

Here are a few of this week’s notable posts:

God and the Weather: Intrepreting Providence Addressing God’s sovereign control over nature in light of the recent tornado in Minneapolis—how do we interpret providence?

Everyday Theology: Just Listen to Your Heart Should we really listen to our hearts when all they do is lead us into sin?

Cultivating Thankfulness How God’s sovereign rule leads us to be thankful in all circumstances

Trusting God Reviewing Jerry Bridges’ book responding to the question, “Can I trust God?”

Blogging the Psalms: Psalm 32

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
    whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity,
    and in whose spirit there is no deceit
(Psalm 32:1-2).

This psalm opens with this bold statement: We are blessed when the Lord forgives our sins and transgressions. This weekend, Christians have celebrated the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus—by which all our sins are covered and our transgressions are forgiven. Because “He who knew no sin became sin,” we can now, in Him, “become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21).

Those who have trust in Christ for the forgiveness of sin, who have been born again by the power of the Holy Spirit, have been given the greatest blessing of all.

But sometimes I wonder—do I really see repentance as the blessing that it truly is? [Read more...]